IW Best Plants Profile - 1990

Our goal is to have 100 percent customer satisfaction, says Larry Osterwise, general manager at IBM Corporation's sprawling development and manufacturing complex in Rochester, where the chief products include AS/400 computers.

A few measures of the 1990 Best Plants award winner's success: When the AS/400 line was introduced in 1988, IBM extended its warranty period from three months to a full year. Mean time between failures has more than doubled since 1983, andengineering design changes have been slashed 45 percent.

Customer Advisory Councils meet several times a year to offer opinions about the product line. We'll disclose what our plans are for two or three years in advance,Osterwise notes, and ask them: What do you think of that? What do you want that is different from that?' Manufacturing personnel are given temporary assignments in which they telephone customers who have made recent purchases to inquire how they like their new computer systems.

Online statistical process control (SPC) technology is used in critical operations. Monitors indicate at a glance the status of process parameters and also provide a snapshot of process conditions over the last 12 hours. Enhanced with artificial intelligence, the SPC system analyzes the data being tracked and notifies an operator if a process is beginning to drift out of control.

The facility has also implemented its version of JIT production, called continuous-flow manufacturing. Among the results: a reduction in the assembly and test cycle from three weeks for the old System 38 to about two days for an AS/400.

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